★★★★ out of ★★★★★
A Scottish, zombie, horror/comedy, Christmas musical! What’s not to like??
Directed by John McPhail.
Nearly a decade ago, Ryan McHenry had a dream. You may remember him as the creative and comedic genius behind the Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal meme on Vine before the service was bought and shuttered by Twitter, but before his many failed attempts to feed Ryan Gosling, McHenry had a dream of making a movie.
Not just any movie, a zombie movie. And not just any zombie movie, but a zombie movie set against the backdrop of Christmas in Scotland that’s also a comedy. And a musical? Sure! Why not?
In 2011, McHenry released the 16 minute short film succinctly titled Zombie Musical. It was his first directorial credit as well as his first writing credit, and fans and critics alike ate it up on the festival circuit. As a matter of fact, you can watch it right here!
Based on the success of his short film, McHenry got to work on the full-length feature that would become Anna and the Apocalypse. He wrote the screenplay and was slated to direct but, tragically, he passed away before the movie could be completed. Director John McPhail [Where Do We Go From Here? (2015)] was brought in to take over and Ryan McHenry’s dream came to life.
Anna and the Apocalypse tells the story of soon-to-be-graduating high schooler, Anna [Ella Hunt; Robot Overlords (2014)], and… well… the Apocalypse. In this case, the Apocalypse comes in the form of a mysterious global sickness that’s turning people into zombies. For Anna and her friends, this doesn’t become a problem until the night of their school’s annual Christmas talent show. That’s when the disease hits their sleepy Scottish town of Little Haven.
For the most part, the movie successfully rides the line between ZomCom and angsty teenage drama. Anna and the Apocalypse is as much a coming of age tale as it is a Christmas-themed zombiefest. The characters each have their own small side stories going on even if they’re usually only used as background info. Anna’s arguing with her father [Mark Benton; TV’s Shakespeare & Hathaway (2018-)] about taking time off before going to college while her jock/bully ex-boyfriend, Nick [Ben Wiggins; Cam2Cam (2014)], has issues with his own overbearing father, and so on.
A couple of these backstories play out on screen, but most of them are fairly tangential and mainly used as fuel for the song and dance numbers. That’s not saying that the characters aren’t interesting! In fact, even though her name’s in the title, I thought Anna was the least interesting character in the movie.
Ella Hunt did a wonderful job in the role, don’t get me wrong. I just found her friends to be written as more colorful characters. The two notables who stick in my head being Malcolm Cumming as Anna’s lovesick best friend, John, and Sarah Swire [God Help the Girl (2014)] as the quirky lesbian reporter. Interesting side-note, Swire was responsible for all of the choreography in the film. No mean feat, that.
The musical parts of Anna and the Apocalypse fit seamlessly into the fabric of the film despite some of the choreography being figured out only minutes before filming due to the tight shooting schedule. The cafeteria-spanning “Hollywood Ending” and more introspective “Human Voice” numbers stand out — the latter showing that Sarah Swire can sing as well as choreograph — while “Give Them a Show” was Ella Hunt’s time to shine.
It’s definitely a low budget movie, but whatever it might lack in polish it makes up in heart. While technically a musical comedy, it’s still a zombie movie and it stays true to all aspects of itself. Sometimes it’s funny, occasionally it tugs on your heart strings and, once in a while, it makes you wince. As we all know, zombies play for keeps, and not everyone makes it out alive.
It’s not a perfect movie, of course. It drags a bit in some places and the villian [Paul Kaye; HBO’s Game of Thrones (2013-2017)] was somewhat unsatisfying, but there’s far more to love about Anna and the Apocalypse than there are nits to pick.
It’s a bit tricky to find right this second, but have no fear! Anna and the Apocalypse will be available for streaming from Amazon and iTunes on February 12!